W - Why? A Movie Review

Bill Gallagher

[Editor's note: Today, we're thrilled that Bill Gallagher has joined BlueOregon as a regular contributor. For 25 years, Bill has been a fixture in Portland talk radio and radio news. And now, he's here. Welcome, Bill.]

W is weird. You're never sure if what you're seeing is truth or fiction. Most of it rings really true. John Kerrry or Al Gore could watch W and smack his forehead, "I can't believe I lost to this guy."

But when W gets into the strained relationship between father and son what are we supposed to believe? Who but each of these Presidents knows how he really feels about the other? That might sound Shakespearean but believe me, it isn't in W.

Oliver Stone's doing a Screenwriting 101 number by making that father-son conflict the central premise of his movie. This tension is supposed to explain the man we've got in the White house for another couple of months. But more often his complaints about "Poppy" just make him sound like a whining, ungrateful son.

What made W run? Pleasing "Poppy". But W could never live up to his expectations. He was having way too much fun.

Will Ferrell could have played W during his wild years. Which is why I'm not sure if all we're seeing is true when it comes to W in the 70s. Did he quit all those jobs? Did he really drink that much Jack Daniels? And how about that gal at the bar he proposed to long before Laura? Was she pregnant? Did "Poppy" take care of that?

Where can I go to look this stuff up? Sorry Oliver Stone, I like most of your movies but can't count on you for 100% true facts.

One fact that's not in question is that W woke up the morning after his 40th birthday party so hung over that he stopped drinking then and there. I had high hopes for the way Stone might render that sober moment but all we get is bright sunshine in W's face and him mumbling "...can't go on like this....I'm through." I guess I was hoping for a scene like the one in TRAINSPOTTING where Ewen McGregor goes off the H. THAT was brilliant. W is not that kind of movie. It plays things pretty straight and doesn't overdose on drama. Oliver Stone subdued? Indeed.

Josh Brolin plays W from his days at Yale to his days in the Oval Office. That's from the ages of 21 to 58. He seems so much like what W might really be like that it's scary. I wonder what the real W would think of this performance by Barbara Streisand's stepson?

Maybe it's because Brolin's so good that the W he creates for this movie is not unlikeable.

How do you think YOU'D turn out with a father like that? And a mother like that? James Cromwell plays the elder George Bush and Ellen Burstyn puts on a really bad white wig to play the not-so-lovable Barbara Bush. Not only does his father favor his younger brother Jeb, he refuses to look W in th eye and tell him what he's thinking. He sends him notes. And that drives W crazy. He not being not a note-writing kind of guy.

W plays like an extended episode of The West Wing at times. But that great television show didn't have to deal with facts the way W does. So when we get the players walking and talking at the same time - a favorite trick of The West Wing - the players in W are dealing with real stuff. Iran. Iraq. WMD's. The Axis of Evil. To make up for all the talking in W. Stone freely drops in montages of combat action in Iraq and war protests in Europe. But there's still a lot of talking. This movie has more short speeches in it than both political conventions combined.

If you love reading memoirs of former Bushies and you snatch up the latest Bob Woodward book when it's published you'll find few surprises in W. Behind-the-scenes discussions are practically public record these days.

Even though I stopped reading Woodward's books about the inner workings of this Bush Administration a long time ago. I couldn't get rid of the feeling I was seeing them re-enacted as I sat through W the other afternoon. So in that way, Stone is serving a purpose by rounding up the usual suspect moves of this Bush Administration and stringing them together in a mostly coherent narrative. But you know what? Bush supporters aren't going to see this movie and everyone else has already seen enough.

Two actor's performances are worth noting. Elizabeth Banks plays Laura Bush in a Texas-sexy way. Sure she's a librarian, but she smokes and drinks and puts up with W when he's wild. Did Stone mean to generate some sympathy for W? How bad a guy could he be if this version of Laura loves him? Banks plays Miri in ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO and was in Scubs for a season. Jeffrey Wright (CASINO ROYALE, BROKEN FLOWERS, ANGELS IN AMERICA) gives us a Colin Powell who only very reluctantly goes along with the WMD con job. Powell never seems comfortable sitting at the table with Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss - who else) and Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn) and Wright makes it show. (Does anyone doubt Powell will soon be back at that table, and feeling much more comfortable?)

W is not a bad movie. But I don't know that you need to rush out to see it at big screen prices. W can wait. We've got an election to get through.

  • backbeat (unverified)

    (Does anyone doubt Powell will soon be back at that table, and feeling much more comfortable?)

    I certainly hope not, given his role in assuring the deaths of more than 4,000 Americans and a million innocent Iraqis. He should on trial for war crimes.

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    I just can't get over the bare fact that we have a major, feature length film premised on mocking a sitting president, before he's even done.

    This is what we've come to. Geesh.

  • LT (unverified)

    Bill, I was a fan of your radio show. Glad to see you here.

  • Jiang (unverified)

    I never got a chance to get my comment in that BO is big time now! Can't really call it a coattail, maybe a bowshock? I think lots is comin' this way in the next 4!

    This is America, as far as "mocking" goes. Truth is a defense in accusations of slander and libel. If it's degradation of the office you're bangin' on about, talk to Shrub!

  • backbeat (unverified)

    Bill, I was a fan of your radio show. Glad to see you here.


    I really loved hearing you oh so long ago. Such a voice of reason, Facts and trust. Dang. Just don't understand why there isn't a venue for you....

  • Jim Robison (unverified)

    I saw "W", hoping to get a bit more from it, but was let down by several aspects of it. I think it would be a much better movie if Stone had waited a couple more years before making it, and then put his full effort into it.

    Regarding your comment "I couldn't get rid of the feeling I was seeing them re-enacted as I sat through W". I couldn't get past the fact that when the characters made statements that were pretty well known quotes from them, the statements were made in different situations from when they occurred in reality. The context of the statements was different, which in many ways diminished their impact. (Since I had read up on much of this previously, I had to hold back the urge to yell out, "That's not where he said that!") I think a true to life documentary of "W", rather than this comedy piece would make people REALLY wonder about what this crew has done to this country.

    Overall, I agree that the movie is not worth wasting money on for the big screen. People who haven't seen it yet, might as well just wait until it's available through NetFlix, or gets broadcast on TV.

  • Rob Wagner (unverified)

    Bill -

    From the beginning of Blue Oregon, I have posted a comment exactly one other time -- when Kari hit his "millionth" page hit I sent him congratulations. This is my second comment to wish you welcome. I hope you are doing well. I saw Mikey a few weeks ago -- he was hilarious as ever. Let me know if you want to go for a run sometime (heard you are into marathoning these days). Again, best wishes! -Rob

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    Bill, I'm happy to welcome you to BlueO as well (though this post doesn't mark your arrival)--particularly because I'm happy we have another movie buff in the house!

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    Backbeat: I agree with you about Gen.Powell, I don't know how he can even look at himself in the mirror. Pete F: I agree with you too, except I will add Bush should have been impeached and tried as a war criminal. That would have been a great ending to this movie. Or any movie. Put a scene with Bush going to prison at the end of Gone With The Wind, or Citizen Cain. Makes them even better! Bill: Welcome to Blue O. Read "Bush on the Couch" for an interesting take on the inner workings, such as they are, of the mind of Dubya.

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    I'm not sure you will see Colin Powell back at the table, at least in any formal role. For one thing, he'll be 72 years old next April and probably isn't looking for a full-time job. For another, I don't think he wants his endorsement to be interpreted by anyone as a bargaining chip for a job. And third, after you've been chairman of the joint chiefs and Secretary of State, what do you do for an encore?

    I was disappointed Colin Powell didn't endorse McCain, but I respect his decision and regard him as one of the few people in Washington, D. C., whose integrity I regard as beyond reproach.

    And while he is no longer in Washington, D.C., I actually feel the same way about Tony McPeak, even though I have been even more disappointed by his political apostasy in recent years. I don't doubt that his motives are sincere and that he has acted out of conviction. What more can you ask of anyone?

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    But, Jack Roberts, if duty called could Colin Powell take a pass and be content tinkering with those old Volvos he collects and repairs? In W he's saying all the things you'd expect to hear from a member of Obama's team. (Agree totally on Tony McPeak, except that I like his honest apostasy. Where's he been since the primary season?)

    The question may be whether Backbeat and Glen HD 28 represent the views of a significant segment of Obama's base when it comes to Colin. Would the new President want to piss them off?

    Backbeat - I think blueoregon's a GREAT venue.

    <h2>Jeff Alworth - Fellow movie buff, can you think of another movie made about a US President that was in the theatres while he was still in office? And what's the best movie ever made about a President of the United States?</h2>

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